By Representative John Duncan, Jr. (TN-2)
“Seniors squeezed by Medicare costs, zero raise in Social Security” was a Florida headline in October 2015, and was similar to many alarming headlines in newspapers across the nation. Seniors had already endured low Social Security cost-of-living adjustments (or COLAs) in recent years, and a 0.0% COLA in 2009 and 2010. How could this happen?
As many seniors are all too aware, the COLA that is calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics is based on a typical “market basket of consumer goods and services” for urban workers. This is an unfair, inaccurate method for calculating seniors’ COLAs, because the typical urban worker has very different expenses than those of seniors. For example, seniors usually spend more on medical care and less on transportation, education, and apparel.
So, in 2015, when gas prices had been low, the Social Security COLA was adversely affected – despite that the costs of healthcare and other necessities important to seniors had gone up.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, “Health spending totaled $74.6 billion in 1970. By 2000, health expenditures had reached about $1.4 trillion, and in 2016, the amount spent on health had more than doubled to $3.3 trillion.”
Similarly, CBS News reported in December 2017: “The costs of prescription drugs -- particularly brand-name prescription drugs without generic alternatives -- are skyrocketing, increasing by 18% annually.”
Healthcare used to be cheap and affordable before the federal government got involved, but costs explode on anything the federal government subsidizes. Unfortunately, federal policies have caused healthcare costs to go far beyond the reach of most, and have made a very few people wealthy at everyone else’s expense.
As one senior put it when she heard there would be no COLA increase in 2016: “How can they say there is no inflation? I don't know what planet they are on, but it's got nothing to do with what we pay. I hate to tell how my drug costs have tripled. I was just managing.”
The 2017 and 2018 COLAs were not much better. The system is broken, has been for years, and needs to be fixed. My legislation, the “CPI for Seniors Act” (H.R. 2016), would require the government to publish an accurate monthly inflation rate based on expenses that are typical for people at least 62 years old.
Before Congress begins to look at policies or programs that directly affect seniors, it is important that we have a CPI that accurately reflects their expenses. I hope my fellow Members of Congress will recognize the need for change and will support my bill. We need to do what we can to help seniors receive the accurate COLA they deserve.
The opinions expressed in “Congressional Corner” reflect the views of the writer and are not necessarily those of TSCL.